One of the biggest risks in construction is time. This article discusses the fundamental ingredients required by good quality programming, which can combat the risk of time.
In our February 2023 webinar, our guest speaker Maria Fisentzou said “When Bill invited me to speak about this subject, I did wonder why he felt the need… it’s outdated, we are in the 21st century. I was actually reading BBC News the other day and apparently Elon Musk will take us to Mars in five years’ time and we are still talking about the need of having a good quality programme…I’m afraid yes there is a need and I will tell you why based on my own experience.”
We are still witnessing contractors who are unaware of important details concerning their contracts, such as: the contractual start or finish date for their projects, sectional or single completion dates, and dates for site possession/ take over. The reason for this is simple – they do not read their contracts. This results in huge delays accompanied by possibly thousands or millions of pounds in damages. We also need to talk about the quality of programmes, as we often come across contractors or projects that have not prepared a programme.
At the other end of the scale there are projects where separate programmes are created for each party: the contractor, the employer, the funder and the subcontractor. These different programmes often do not align, which allows conflicting information to be collected when reporting on the progress of a project and can make it extremely difficult accurately to monitor progress.
So, what questions need to be asked at the start of a project? What are the fundamental ingredients of a construction programme? There are two fundamental ingredients, the first being the scope of works. The second is time: when is the project going to be built? If you don’t know the crucial dates for the project, how can you effectively monitor progress?
A high-quality programme will allow the parties to manage the high degree of interdependencies that exist in construction projects. Technological advances have helped us to build complex projects. Time is limited in projects, so it is important to use this time effectively, which a programme will make possible. A programme will allow you to accomplish more with less effort and to a higher quality.
So, what should good programming look like?
First of all, a programme should identify the critical paths and near critical paths. A critical path analysis programme will assist in determining the longest path. Many think that a delay analysis is very complex, but there is one thing that is especially looked into when considering entitlement to an extension of time; the delays on the critical path.
Secondly, the programme should be a complete, logically linked, dynamic network. Integration is needed of the pre-construction phase, the design, the procurement construction, the handover, all of which need to be in a single programme. If all of these areas of the project do not communicate with each other, the difficult task of monitoring the works, analysing delays, and communicating with experts will become even more difficult. The programme must have a unique activity identification structure and should make use of a correct, and an easily traceable breakdown structure; this is especially important in large-scale projects. It is a common occurrence when determining causation for the planned programme to be compared with the current as built situation. For example, if a programme has 50,000 activities, a computer is used to compare all of the activity identities. Each activity needs to have a unique ID for this to work effectively, and to allow the method of execution to be followed. The programme should use appropriate calendars and clearly define working days, you do not want to leave this to chance. Having clear definitions will allow everyone to be on the same page and avoid confusion.
Thirdly, a recommendation from the Society of Construction Law Protocol is that the maximum activity duration and lag should be 28 days. Some contracts specify activity duration and lag, so it is important to have a clear understanding of what your contract states. The programme should clearly indicate any use of time, risk allowance or contingency. Some contracts expressly request this, and others do not, so it is important to know what the contract includes.
Lastly, your programme should be optimised. It should be well balanced, avoiding high volumes of similar work being executed simultaneously. This should ideally be prepared before the programme commences. To further the optimisation of your programme, engage with all of the parties involved, as this will help on the reporting of progress and overall engagement in the project.
It is of paramount importance that the programme complies with the contract, project and funder requirements.
It is very useful to accompany the programme with a planning narrative. This will set out your workings in preparing the programme, your assumptions, your sequencing and your methodology. You should also keep accurate records of data, such as actual start dates, percentages of complete values, and actual finish dates.
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